The winners have been selected! Fifteen of your neighbors in the community will be honored with a Beacon Award on Nov. 17 at WoodWinds. Join the celebration.
Westbrook Dance Academy Shines as National Champions at Starpower
The Westbrook Dance Academy’s Senior Competition Team scored five stars for each of its three routines at the Starpower Talent Nationals that took place at Mohegan Sun from June 30 to July 2. Pictured are (front) Sylvia Sonenstein (Madison) and Mara Kelley (Old Saybrook) with (back) Kaylene Koelle (Clinton), Gabriella Navarra (Clinton), Brooke Dellarocco (Chester), and Megan Murphy (Old Saybrook). (Photo courtesy of Julie Reed-Russo)
Each of the Westbrook Dance Academy Senior Competition Team’s competitors gave solo performances that garnered accolades at the Starpower Talent Nationals. Pictured are Sylvia Sonenstein (Madison), Gabriella Navarra (Clinton), Brooke Dellarocco (Chester), Mara Kelley (Old Saybrook), Megan Murphy (Old Saybrook) and Kaylene Koelle (Clinton). (Photo courtesy of Julie Reed-Russo)
The Westbrook Dance Academy Junior Competition Team’s jazz routine Hocus Pocus and tap performance Sugar Rush scored 4 ¾ stars apiece at the Starpower Talent Nationals. Pictured are Briella Dean (East Haddam), Kylee Pascale (Old Saybrook), Sophie Furcolo (Westbrook), and Mia Stowik (Westbrook). (Photo courtesy of Julie Reed-Russo)
The Westbrook Dance Academy Teen Competition Team earned a Judges’ Special Award for its lyrical dance People Help The People at Starpower Talent Nationals. Pictured are Tess Santarsiero (Old Saybrook), Olivia Hartmann (Clinton), Jaidyn Cote (Old Saybrook), and Isabella Johnson (Clinton). (Photo courtesy of Julie Reed-Russo)
The Westbrook Dance Academy Futures Competition Team scored 4 ¾ stars and placed 10th its jazz routine Sugar and Spice at Starpower Talent Nationals. Pictured are Georgia Dean (East Haddam), Elijah Bragg (Madison), Kylie Magee (Guilford), and Olivia Amenta (Westbrook). (Photo courtesy of Julie Reed-Russo)
The Westbrook Dance Academy Mini Competition Team placed third in the 9-11 Novice Small Group Division with its open routine Toy Story, which also received a Judges’ Special Award, at Starpower Talent Nationals. Pictured are Delaney Keefe (Guilford), Delilah Calle (Old Saybrook), Bridget Johnson (Clinton), Aubrey Meyer (Clinton), and Audrey Bragg (Madison). (Photo courtesy of Julie Reed-Russo)
The Westbrook Dance Academy (WDA) recently competed in the Starpower Talent Nationals at Mohegan Sun, and several teams returned as National Champions thanks to some stellar showings from the Academy's performers. The competition featured 44 studios and over 1,700 entries across all divisions. The WDA's competition squads showed up to compete with 12 dances total placing in the top 10 of their respective categories, and WDA was one of eight studios to qualify for the Battle of the Stars.
WDA owner and instructor Julie Reed-Russo saw her performers turn it up this year. Starpower was one of the first major competitions for WDA since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and it felt close to a return to normal.
"We started doing all our classes over Zoom until memorial day. Our entire competition season was canceled last year," Reed-Russo said. "Nationals this year was pretty much back to normal. It was still safe with three separate rooms, so everyone at Mohegan was spread out more. It helped people feel safe, but still be there and feel normal. These kids have been through a lot. Having the audience clap and cheer for you is an amazing feeling for them."
One of the top performing teams at Starpower for WDA was the Senior Competition Team. The Seniors scored 5 stars for each of their three routines and placed second, fifth, and sixth in the 15-19 Small Group Division. The Seniors' musical theater routine
Beetlejuice placed second, and it was one of eight dances to qualify for the 12 and Up Small Group Battle of the Stars. The Seniors' lyrical performance Land of Confusion earned fifth place, and their open routine All The Rowboats came in sixth place. Senior Competition Team members include Mara Kelley and Megan Murphy from Old Saybrook, Kaylene Koelle and Gabriella Navarra from Clinton, Brooke Dellarocco from Chester, and Sylvia Sonenstein from Madison. Reed-Russo was proud of the Seniors' performances, and their results marked a meaningful milestone for WDA.
"We've never had all the dances make top 6 before. That's the first time we had that happen with a team. Overall as a team, they work really well together. They love each other so much and spend a lot of time together," said Reed-Russo. "It's a really good mix, and they are really supportive of each other whether it's dance, school, or something else."
Dellarocco scored 5 stars and won the National Championship in the 12 and Up Vocal Division with her rendition of
It Roars. Dellarocco also placed third in the 15-19 Solo Title Division with a 5-star performance of her jazz solo I'm a Woman. Dellarocco also scored 5 stars and placed eighth in the 15-19 Solo Division with her lyric solo Can You Hear Me. Dellarocco was also awarded the prestigious Discovery Spotlight Scholarship. Reed-Russo remains perpetually impressed by Dellarocco as a multi-faceted talent.
"Brooke sings, dances, and acts. She was chosen for that scholarship because she is that kind of triple threat," said Reed-Russo. "She's definitely a team player. She knows where she has to step up to get things done, whether that's group, solo, or helping another team. She enjoys watching other dancers at competitions. She even looks up other dancers on social media. That helps her learning process, and it helps her with the other students, as well."
Sonenstein had a strong individual showing, too. She scored 4 ¾ stars for second place in the 12 and Up Vocal Division with her performance of
Don't Rain on My Parade and 4 ¾ stars for her musical theater solo Life with Harold. Reed-Russo feels lucky to have such multi-talented performers in her studio like Sonenstein and Dellarocco.
"Sylvia's another triple threat. She loves singing, dancing, and acting. Her mom's an actress, and her brother is a musician and actor. She brings a lot to the table," Reed-Russo said. "She has so much confidence, and the room lights up when she's on stage. She's a really hard worker and always tries to be a better dancer than she was the week before."
Kelley placed second in the 15-19 Solo Title Division and fourth in the 15-19 Solo Division scoring 5 stars with her tap solo
The Goodbye Song. Reed-Russo was glad to see Kelley pour her heart into her performances after a lost season last year.
"Mara graduated in 2020, and she stayed with her team for this year because we didn't get to do much last year because of COVID. She's always been a team player supporting other classes. She's also very smart and talented," Reed-Russo said. "She even choreographed the musicals at the high school, but they weren't able to perform it for COVID reasons. I know it would have been fantastic though because that's how she is."
Koelle scored 5 stars with her musical theater solo
I'm Breaking Down. Reed-Russo appreciated everything that Koelle brings to the team both on and off the floor.
"Kaylene's a very smart young woman. She's very talented and has done a good job putting up with a lot of the crazy costumes I've given her over the years. She really goes for it, and she's not afraid to be silly on stage because she knows she's bringing the routine to life," said Reed-Russo. "She does a great job with musical theater-style dance. She's dedicated. I'm really going to miss her next year. She's very funny and can always liven up the room with a laugh."
Murphy scored 4 ¾ stars with her musical theater solo
Life of the Party. Reed-Russo enjoys seeing Murphy succeed because she's an easy person to root for.
"Megan is a very kind young woman. She's also very smart. She brings a lot through her facial expressions and her movements. She uses her emotion really well," said Reed-Russo. "She's one of the nicest kids I've ever met. Never has a bad thing to say to anyone. She works very hard to make herself better. She's very driven."
Navarra scored 4 ¾ stars with her musical theater solo
Little Me. Navarra is the youngest member of the Senior Team, and Reed-Russo is excited to see what her future holds.
"Gabriella is the youngest on the team. I've had her since she was 2 years old. She was a little spitfire right from the start. She has tons of talent and is sassy on stage. She has grown into a really consistent overall dancer," Reed-Russo said. "She can do anything. She lights up the stage, and you can't teach that. It has to come naturally. She has always received positive comments from the judges."
The Teen Competition Team lyrical dance
People Help The People scored 5 stars, finished fifth in the 12-14 Small Group Division, and also received a Judges' Special Award. The team's open dance Mad Hatter, and tap performance Crash Test Dummies scored 4 ¾ stars apiece. The Teen Competition Team features Isabella Johnson and Olivia Hartmann of Clinton, Tess Santarsiero and Jaidyn Cote of Old Saybrook, and Gabrielle Walker of Westbrook. Walker scored 4 ¾ stars with her musical theater solo Le Jazz Hot. Reed-Russo has always been impressed by the Teen Team's ability to work together.
"Their teamwork is amazing. They pump each other up right before performances. They really worked hard to make themselves better at everything this year," said Reed-Russo. "When one of their dances was top-5, the look on their faces was one of my favorite moments of the week. They kept looking at each other, not believing it."
The Junior Team scored 4 ¾
stars with their jazz routine
Hocus Pocus, as well as their tap performance Sugar Rush. The Junior Team consists of Kylee Pascale of Old Saybrook, Mia Stowik and Sophie Furcolo of Westbrook, and Briella Dean of East Haddam.
Pascale scored 4 ¾ stars with her musical theater solo
I'm Getting Good At Being Bad, while Briella Dean scored 4 ½ stars with her jazz routine Cooties. Stowik scored 4 ½ stars with her open routine Amazing Mazie, and Furcolo scored 4 ½ stars for her open routine Mamma Mia. Reed-Russo thought the Juniors handled themselves well on stage, especially in the face of some stiff competition.
"They performed really well. They've worked so hard this year to improve, and these dances were the best they had all year," Reed-Russo said. "Their age division is always the biggest one. It was really hard to even get into the top-10, and their scores were really good. They did a great job."
The Futures Competition Team scored 4 ¾ stars and finished 10th with their jazz routine
Sugar and Spice. The Futures Team includes Georgia Dean from East Haddam, Elijah Bragg from Madison, Olivia Amenta from Westbrook, and Kylie Magee from Guilford.
The Mini Competition Team placed third in the 9-11 Novice Small Group Division with its open routine
Toy Story and fourth with its tap routine Mary Poppins. Toy Story also received a Judges' Special Award. Mini Team members include Bridget Johnson and Aubrey Meyer from Clinton, Audrey Bragg from Madison, Delaney Keefe from Guilford, and Delilah Calle, from Old Saybrook. Bragg scored 4 ¾ stars with her open solo, Queen of Mean.
In the end, Reed-Russo just feels grateful to have been able to see all her performers get to this point. The past year has been challenging for her studio and its members, and to see her kids shine on stage buoyed her spirits.
"It's emotional. Our industry has taken a really big hit the last year, and dance might not feel essential to some people, but it's essential to these kids. It helps with school, speaking in public, and for some kids, this is like therapy," said Reed-Russo. "I'm just glad we're open and are still going. We didn't give up."